The Wherefores and Whys of Seminary Community

There are two Bible verses that guide my thinking about the education I’m undergoing at Yale Divinity School.

The first is Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We look at the world around us, realize it is not what God intended, and conform (a wonderful word) ourselves to a different pattern.

So what are some of the things the world tells us it is alright to do? Here’s a short list:

-not talk or listen to people we disagree with
-be utterly convinced of the rightness of our position that we lose sight of any kind of humility or self-doubt
-get lost in the righteousness of our thinking that we move easily into self-righteousness
-that we never have to repent of anything; everything that is wrong is someone else’s fault.

As proof that these are values of this world, I present Exhibit A: myself. This list is compiled from my own life experiences, indeed from the experiences of the past week alone. I also present Exhibit B: the Congress of the United States of America. If they are the values of this world, what would it look like to not conform to them?

The other verse is more a theme that appears in the Gospel, that of Pharisaic self-righteousness and hypocrisy. For instance, Luke 18:11: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people,” prays the Pharisee standing next to the tax collector. Sometimes, we so excel in our zeal not to conform to the world around us that we get lost in ourselves and end up missing the point.

(To be fair, Paul actually notes this in Romans 12:3: “I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.”)

Somewhere, in the space between these two verses is where that elusive “formation” we talk about in seminary (but never practice?) is supposed to happen. For what it’s worth, I think more liberal types tend to be more guilty of ignoring the first verse and more conservative types tend to be more guilty of ignoring the second.

In my experience, we don’t have a lot of conversations about these things. We’re concerned about jobs, debt, liturgy, and vestments. What would conversations about these sorts of things look like?

As a coda, I think these verses neatly lay out the divide in the Anglican Communion as well but that’s a post for another time.

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